September 18, 2015

Crimean Tatars call for blockade of Crimea


KYIV – Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, experts have come to a common conclusion that is also supported by the Crimean civic activists: to stop supplying any goods from the mainland to the peninsula and, in this way, blockade Crimea.

Also since the annexation, two new laws have been introduced to Ukrainian legislation. These are the law “On citizens’ rights and freedoms and legal regime in the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea” and the law “On creating the ‘Crimea’ free economic zone and on economic activity on the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine.” According to Refat Chubarov, chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, the first law ensures influence of the Ukrainian Constitution over the peninsula, and thus provides protection and implementation of national, cultural, social and legal rights on the temporarily occupied territory.

“Instead, every day we see evidence of pressure, detentions, searches and pogroms organized by the occupation authorities against the Crimean Tatars and other national minorities,” Mr. Chubarov said on September 8 at a press conference at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “We have political prisoners – that is Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis Akhtem Chyyigoz, activists Ali Asanov and Mustafa Dzhegermendzhy, Ukrainian patriots Oleh Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko. Besides that, people keep disappearing and two were killed.”

The second law allows Ukraine to deliver goods to the occupied territory with almost no obstacles. “According to data provided by the Center for Investigative Journalism, over the last week 5,777 tons of food arrived from the mainland to the peninsula. The total estimated value of all goods is 475 million dollars,” Mr. Chubarov noted. While there are daily crimes against people, Ukrainian businesses keep supplying food to Crimea.

“We believe that this is wrong, because this way the Ukrainian state feeds those who occupied our land and supports Kremlin power, which now opposes Ukraine.”

According to Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, it is not only a question of foodstuffs. Ukraine supplies 85 percent of electricity and about 80 percent of water, especially irrigation water, to Crimea. “Before the occupation, such costs were covered by tourism or business trips. Now Ukraine does not get anything,” said Mr. Dzhemilev.

The only argument against the blockade is the moral aspect, as our people are still in Crimea. “This argument is ridiculous, because according to all international laws, it is the invader who must provide food, electricity and other benefits,” said Mr. Dzhemilev. Another argument Mr.  Dzhemilev said he heard is that Ukraine supplies this food for its citizens in Crimea. “I can officially declare that is not true. Eighty percent of those products are transferred to the Russian Federation across the Kerch Bay. After all, prices there are several times higher,” Mr. Dzhemilev added.

Lenur Islyamov, vice-president of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, shared his observations that Ukrainians have started forgetting that last year Crimea was still a part of Ukraine. “I often hear that we are too weak to fight for Crimea. However, I am sure that we must return it,” said Mr. Islyamov.

Therefore, social activists prepared a number of demands from members of the Kyiv-based Crimea Civil Blockade: to release political prisoners; to stop interference in Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian media activity; to ensure foreign journalists’ and monitors’ access to Crimea; to stop criminal proceedings and administrative persecution of Crimean Tatars and other citizens of Ukraine; to lift the ban on entering Crimea for the Crimean Tatar leaders. According to Mr. Dzhemilev, these had all been previously discussed with President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and will be further discussed in order not to violate any law of Ukraine.

“We believe this is the only chance to return Crimea to Ukraine, because no negotiations with the invaders lead to a solution,” said Mr. Dzhemilev. The start date for the Crimea blockade is currently unknown, but participants said they plan to go to the border with the peninsula later this month.